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Posts Tagged ‘https://notjustagranny.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/project-101/’

After my stint in Co. Wicklow where I worked for 3 weeks, I decided to spend a few days in Belfast and explore this city I had last seen 10 years ago. As part of my Project 101, I planned to visit Belfast Castle, Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway…amongst other explorations. I had a fantastic 4 days and before long the time whizzed by and so my time in Belfast came to an end – all too soon.

Explore Belfast - Northern Ireland

Explore Belfast – Northern Ireland

I had to be up early, no lingering in bed as I had to get to the station and back to Dublin in time for my flight to Heathrow. After a hearty breakfast, at 08:45 I left the BnB and walked to the bus-stop and so the the station for the train back to Dublin enroute to Broadstairs…13 hours travelling door-to-door 🤣🤣🤣😔😔 oh well. I actually got to Belfast station 45 minutes early, which is so much less stressful than rushing to get there on time, but due to the station personnel being ever so NOT helpful, I was directed to the wrong place and despite being early I eventually ended up at the back of a very long queue that snaked out the station. Sometimes I think they do that just to annoy the traveller….misdirect you that is!!

Travelling from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland is surreal…..one second you’re on UK time then next on EU time. There are no discernible borders, so unless you know at which station you’re entering or leaving the UK, you’d have no idea just by looking out the window of the train. Talking of which, the scenery in Ireland is just stunning.

I had a fantastic 4 days, saw some amazing places, visited the Dark Hedges,

the dark hedges northern ireland

The Dark Hedges – scenes for Game of Thrones were shot in this area

Bushmills (as in the whiskey),

explored the Giant’s Causeway,

saw Dunluce Castle that appears to cling precariously to the clifftop,

dunluce castle

Dunluce Castle; a now-ruined medieval castle in Northern Ireland. It is located on the edge of a basalt outcropping in County Antrim. Built by the MacQuillan family around 1500, the earliest written record of the castle was in 1513.

saw the most spectacular coastline along the east coast to Carnlough

carnlough county antrim

Carnlough – from Irish Carnlach, meaning ‘place of cairns. A village in Co. Antrim is has the prettiest harbour

where we found a delightful little harbour and stopped for an ice-cream (delicious).

stunning Co. Antrim coastline

stunning Co. Antrim coastline

I climbed Cave Hill (370 meters/1200 feel above sea level) with fantastic views of the city and lagoon, stood in a 1000 year-old hill fort,

visited Belfast Castle,

Belfast Cathedral and the Town Hall,

walked along the river Lagan, visited the Titanic Quarter and Queen Island,

saw extraordinary yet poignant murals and memorials on the streets of Belfast; Shankill Road, Crumlin Road and Antrim Road,

depicting history I learned about in school – absolutely fascinating!!  I walked and walked and walked over the 3.5 days covering well over 60kms, and above all I had superb weather with temperatures in the high 20’s – how marvellous are our summer days!

The Waterworks Belfast

The Waterworks Belfast with Cave Hill to the right

It was overcast on my last day with some rain in Dublin and thankfully a lot cooler. Much as I love summer, I cannot bear humidity.

Once I arrived in Belfast city centre I walked to the station via St George’s Market; a lively, colourful venue for good fresh food. I had coffee there the day before with the host at the AirBnB and spent a few minutes walking around just looking at all there was on offer. Loved every minute of my stay.

Belfast, I’ll be seeing you again…

Once at the airport there was sheer chaos. As usual when you have an enquiry at the airport you get sent from pillar to post and back again….I needed my boarding pass printed so went to the customer services desk for AerLingus…..the woman behind the counter was not very friendly and chastised me for coming to the counter (bloody cheek), but printed the pass anyway…why not just do it without the accompanying attitude.  Anyway, it appears that British Airways had a computer meltdown and AerLingus are affiliated so I’m guessing there was a lot of pressure. I was instructed to check in my own suitcase (nerve-wracking) but at least now I know how to do it. And then I had to weight it and send it off along the conveyor belt into the depths of the airport …also something I had not done before, so I stood behind a couple who were doing it, made a comment of the procedure and they kindly assisted me on the ‘how to’ and now I have learned 2 new travel processes LOL.

Anyway at least my bag arrived on the same plane and at the same time as I did in London, unlike the thousands of travellers affected by the BA computer melt-down whose bags went into the abyss.

I loved the fab new sculpture at Heathrow arrivals: pretty awesome. Then onto the tube, and finally onto a train to home…..my daughter picked me up at the station at 21;35…..

broadstairs kent

Viking Bay, Broadstairs, Kent

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Palazzo Pitti was quite frankly just extraordinary. I think I went a little mad with my camera and photographed every inch of the walls and ceilings, the displays of treasure, those fragments of clothing from 500 years ago take your breath away. Finally after I had explored every inch I could, I left via the main entrance on Piazza Pitti and looking back quickly took a #selfie…I just couldn’t believe what I just seen and felt like I needed to record the fact that I had actually been there….it was so surreal. And I hadn’t even mentioned the Grotto!!

palazzo pitti Buontalenti grotto florence

Palazzo Pitti and the amazing Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens, built by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593, commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici

Florence truly is a city of opulent architectural gems and the centre highly deserves it’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where to next? I didn’t think I could see anything else that was so amazing, but I was wrong!! Making my way back to the river I crossed over Ponte Vecchio again and within a couple of minutes I entered the Palazzo Vecchio. Well!!! What do you say when you are stopped in your tracks by something that is so amazing you almost have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming….what I saw in front of me was someone’s dream, and it was magical.

palazzo vecchio florence

the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio, once home to Cosimo Medici and his wife Eleanora of Toledo

On the Visit Florence website they talk about time-travel and walking through these extraordinary buildings it seriously is like stepping back in time: “Palazzo Vecchio offers Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress and amazing Renaissance chambers and paintings” Do visit their website for more information. This building, now the Florentine Town Hall is magnificent, influenced by Moorish architecture, if you blinked you could be in Morocco. I’ve seen similar crenellated buildings in Gibraltar. It’s amazing! During the mid 16th century the Medicis; Cosimo and his wife; Eleanora of Toledo (the clothing fragments in my previous post belonged to her) turned this into their residence and much of the paintings and decorations you can see today were influenced by them. Sadly I had a very strict daily budget and if I wanted to eat…so I didn’t get to visit the interior, which is such a shame since the rooms are decorated by people like Michaelangelo and Donatello. I guess I’m going to have to go back LOL

palazzo vecchio florence

the sculptures in the courtyard are stunning

The courtyard; Piazza della Signoria is equally as impressive with a towering replica of Michaelangelo’s most famous ‘David’ along with some other stunning sculptures. Ohhh so beautiful. If you’re a fan of art, then seriously Florence is a must.

palazzo vecchio Piazza della Signoria in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio overlooks Piazza della Signoria. The Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I is a bronze equestrian statue erected in 1594 in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

After satiating my appetite for ‘amazement’ I went walkabout again, just meandering here and there, aiming for towers I could see towering above those gorgeous red roofs. Plunging into the warren of streets I slowly but surely make my way towards my goal: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence’s main cathedral.

Along the way I discovered the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino founded in 1441. Closed, but the history looks well impressive. Then the Museo Casa Di Dante….only Dante’s home. I mean seriously!!! Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265, on the site where the Museo Casa di Dante stands. Poet, politician, writer; author of The Divine Comedy, one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature, Dante is considered the father of the Italian language. Again I had to bypass = (bigger budget next visit I guess LOL). Discovering all these places, of people I had learned about in school was truly awe-inspiring. Never in my wildest dreams/imagination did I ever envisage actually visiting.

casa di dante and oratoria dei buonomini

amazing discoveries; Casa di Dante and Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, Florence

Next discovery was The Badìa Fiorentina; an abbey and church, now home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem, situated on the Via del Proconsolo, was founded as a Benedictine institution in 978 by Willa, Countess of Tuscany. Dante grew up nearby and would likely have heard the monks singing the Mass and the Offices here in Latin Gregorian chant. It looked totally intriguing and stepping through the door you are transported to another era. Chiesa Della Badia Fiorentina; place of silence, eucharistic adoration and liturgy  – I couldn’t believe what I saw….at the front of the church were a number of nuns and monks kneeling on the floor in front of the altar!!! I have never in all my years of visiting churches around Europe and the UK seen such an ethereal and other-worldly scene. I sat down with a bump on one of the pews, just stunned into overwhelming amazement. It was totally surreal. I felt like all my sins were emblazoned on my forehead and that I should immediately ask for forgiveness. It didn’t of course stop me from taking as many photos as possible, although I did feel like I was intruding on a very special moment. The church is filled with wonders: the altarpiece showing the Virgin appearing to St. Bernard painted by Filippino Lippi between 1482 and 1486, the funerary monuments, and the magnificent elaborately carved wooden ceiling, made in 1631 by Felice Gamberai, looking up before I left I had noticed this extraordinary ceiling; solid looking and elaborately carved it looks way too heavy to remain in place!! Wonderful place. I love churches and visit them often, but I can honestly say this is the first time I felt so insignificant. Seeing those nuns kneeling in supplication…..wow.

church 3

Chiesa Della Badia Fiorentina; place of silence, eucharistic adoration and liturgy

Slipping quietly out the door I continued on my way. Okay so there is an abundance of churches in Florence, and I was in my element….I learned my lesson in Venice, where I mostly ignored the churches, except for St Mark’s obviously, until the last day of my visit….at which time I ran around like a chicken without a head trying to visit as many as possible….I had never realised how magnificent they are; the paintings, the treasures, the ghoulish relics venerated in their elaborate ossuaries. To be able to stand on the exact same space where the old masters had stood, transferring their extraordinary talent onto the actual walls of the building is just mind-blowing!! Not canvases painted elsewhere and hung in the church, but painted right there onto the actual wall…..so now, I never pass a church that’s open without stepping inside, especially not in Italy that must surely be the birth-place of extraordinarily magnificent art!

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Anyway, before I wax too lyrical, the next church I stumbled into was the huge, massive and very imposing Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri. The size and facade of this church are overwhelming (yes, I was overwhelmed quite a lot in Florence LOL). On the website they describe the building as huge…uhm yes rather. I spent only a few minutes exploring this enormous cavern of a church; the altar is just amazing, since it was just on 6pm and they were about to close. But I saw enough to be well impressed.

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

I continued my meanderings and passed the ever so delightful and quirky Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci!! Oh the temptation to buy something….Too cute. They’re located on Via della Condotta, 12, 50122 Firenze.

Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci

Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci

After wandering around some more getting closer and closer (or so I thought), photographing all the street names as I went, I found myself suddenly impatient; not wanting to delay any longer….I instead found myself back in the Piazza della Signoria, I have no idea how…seems I had walked in a circle LOL. So catching my bearings (yay for mapmywalk) I made my way with determination now, past Piazza della Repubblica then followed Via Roma and suddenly, as I walked around the corner into Piazza S. Giovanni, there it was….OMG!!! Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Writing about it now I’m in tears. I cannot explain in words the emotions that rushed over me.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

It is quite simply magnificent. Like I said to my daughter afterwards, I had seen a number of images of the cathedral viewed from the side, photos of the very recognisable dome, close up and from afar, but I had never before seen the front of the building!!! It is exquisite. From that edge of the piazza the view of the front entrance is blocked by the fabulous Baptistery; Battistero di San Giovanni, which in itself is very impressive, an outstanding building of glowing white marble with green inlays – but walk around the corner and ohmygosh!!!

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower; this most amazing facade is so beautiful I just couldn’t believe it. I have seen some beautiful cathedrals in my life and was to see many more over the next 3 days, but oh my word….this was the creme de la creme!! I confess that I just stood and cried. And then camera in hand I proceeded to take a photo of just about every inch of the building LOL. I couldn’t wait to see the interior. That was planned for the following Friday at which time I would also climb the dome and the tower. It’s free to visit the cathedral (which I didn’t realise at the time) but you have to pay to climb the Dome and Tower and visit the Museum.

The facade of this cathedral is like an explosion of fondant icing; brilliant white, delicate pink, subtle shades of green all framed by delicate lacy carvings, exquisite mosaics and astounding sculptures. I’ve tried putting into words how it looks…but I’m afraid words desert me.  I guess you’ll just have to go and see for yourself 😉 From the website Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, is the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London) and was the largest church in Europe when it was completed in the 15th century”. Surprisingly the facade was only completed during the 19th century, and of course followed the fashion of the time.

The bell tower right next door is equally impressive, just outstanding; white marble inlaid with green and red marble fading into pink, with elaborate designs and a few sculptures. One of the 4 principal monuments on the Piazza del Duomo, the tower, designed by Giotto di Bondone, stands 84.7 metres tall and about 15 metres in breadth; a classical example of 14th c Gothic architecture in Florence.

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Bapistery of St John, Florence, Italy

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Bapistery of St John, Florence, Italy

All I can say about these buildings is that the people who designed them had the most extraordinary imaginations! If you consider they didn’t have computers and the tools we have today, their buildings mostly leave many of our newer architectural creations in the shade…and mostly they seem to last a lot longer!! Started in 1334 by Giotto, it was completed in 1359 by Francesco Talenti. I mean seriously 1334!!!! And it’s still standing!!!

After photographing my fill of the cathedrals facade and the tower I walked right around the whole building. I was sad to note that the east side (dome side) of the building was quite grubby and tatty but there is restoration going on. I’m guessing it costs a whole heck of a lot of money to maintain this magnificent building.

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Museum of Opera of Saint Maria Fiore is located in this area and proved to be a stunning place for art lovers to spend a few hours. I visited on Friday 28th, on the same day as the Dome, Cathedral, Baptistery and Tower. Combined ticket.

After walking right around the cathedral I took a closer look at the Baptistery; the Baptistery of St John, is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Constructed in the Florentine Romanesque style around 1059, the construction of white Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay was finished in 1128. More about this on 28th 😉

the Baptistery of Saint John, Florence, ItLY

the Baptistery of Saint John, Florence, ItLY

After I had walked around the cathedral at least 3 times, and inspected every possible angle, I popped in at the Museo del Bigallo….wow, beautiful interior. There is one other area of the museum that you can visit but they only open that at certain times of the day for a short period, so I didn’t get to go in. I finally tore myself away from the Piazza del Duomo and started to make my way back towards the station. It was already after 7pm and the sun was beginning to set. I had been walking for hours and needed some food!! But first, as I passed the open doors of the Chiesa dei Santi Michele I couldn’t resist popping in for a look. Goodness gracious. I’m sure that if the Catholic Church organisation sold all the paintings and gold and silver treasures that fill their churches they could solve world poverty at a stroke. It’s just too much! Seriously. But hey, meanwhile, I loved seeing all these beautiful places.

Chiesa dei Santi Michele

Chiesa dei Santi Michele, Florence, Italy

From there I headed towards the river…the evening was so gorgeous I wanted to see another Tuscan sunset…while standing at the bridge looking downstream I saw what looked like a group of people walking on water. After all the churches I had visited during the day, I would not have been one bit surprised!!!

River Arno Florence, Italy

River Arno Florence, Italy

But on closer inspection it turned out to be a weir that stretch across the river between the two bridges. A brilliant optical illusion.

the weir stretching across the River Arno in Florence

the weir stretching across the River Arno in Florence

Of course this needed closer observation so after walking around a bit, and crossing over to the opposite bank I finally found where I could access the lower reaches of the riverbank and the weir. As a bonus I also discovered some of the old city walls.

wall 1

City Walls in Florence

The list of Project 101 discoveries was growing!!

I walked along the river till I reached the weir and after a bit of climbing and unsteady walking, watching my step on uneven cobbles and concrete, I too was ‘walking on water’. The water level was lapping the edge and a misstep would have seen me taking a swim with the fishes. Nearby a group of gorgeous giggling girls having a celebration asked me to take a their photo…of course!! Then they did some for me 🙂 Turns out it was the birthday of one of them and I took delight in telling them that it was mine the very next day!! I got to eat a slice of heavenly chocolate cake while standing on a weir in the middle of the River Arno in Florence. Isn’t life peachy!weir 3 I took loads of photos….surprise!!! I sometimes wish I could just take one photo of any one place and be satisfied. As if!! LOL

By now it was getting quite dark, the sun had slipped behind the horizon and I had some exploring to do.  I walked back towards the old walls I had seen earlier and left the city for the suburbs, but not for long. Just to have a look. Then following the wall I walked along just looking and enjoying the night, it was sublime. I found a convent, Chiesa e Convitto di San Francisco de Sales established in 1700, now a girls boarding school.

I meandered along, the light fading and the night drawing in, just loving being alone and on my own with not a soul in the vicinity who knows me. Marvellous. I love the anonymity of travel. By now I was HUNGRY!!! It was 8pm and I hadn’t eaten a thing since 10:30 at Caffe Dei Fossi. Right find me a trattoria. I really wanted to eat at a traditional eatery, so scanning the streets I walked and walked…..finally I found just what I was looking for……Trattoria Dante – perfect!!!

Trattoria Dante, Florence, Italy

the Convent top left, empty streets, Trattoria Dante, Florence

I, without further ado, entered, found a table and by 8:30pm I was tucking into a most delicious pizza…yum yum yum!!!

An hour later I was on the streets again and heading back to the apartment. The night was wonderful, Florence looked so pretty all lit up and I so enjoyed my walk through the now much quieter streets.

The River Arno, streets at night, my square, Chiesa Santa Maria Novella

The River Arno, streets at night, my square, Chiesa Santa Maria Novella

I was tempted to go have another look at the cathedral nut managed to resist…I had an early start on the morrow….a visit to San Gimignano for my birthday. Yayyy. Besides which, my bed was waiting – 12.5 hours after I set off in the morning it was time for sleep. Goodnight.

my bed...calling me

my bed…waiting for me

Connect with me on instagram as I continue my travels. I’ll be writing about San Gimignano in due course; come back soon.

Website links you may interested in:

Dante’s House

Badia Fiorentina

Chiesa di San Fillipo Neri

Bartolucci

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

More on the cathedral

Baptistery of St John

 

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